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The Warp



Lettice’s earliest public recognition had come at the age of eight when she won an award in a competition organised by Chilprufe underwear. The competition was for a picture of a toy bear wearing a Chilprufe vest. My mother drew her own toy bear and the prize was another Chilprufe vest, this time smaller and for the bear.

As the years passed she was to become a part of that renaissance in wood and copper engraving and etching which was an exciting feature of the art scene of the twenties and thirties, a renaissance which included, among others, Clifford Webb, John Buckland Wright, John O’Connor and John Petts.

She was born Lettice Mackintosh Rate. Her mother had died young and her father (my grandfather) was fairly remote, so she and her four sisters to a large degree brought up themselves, while however observing customs of the utmost decorum, and with the aid of nannies, governesses, musical and artistic instructors, and chaperones. The names Lettice Mackintosh were considered eccentric by some, and at school she was nicknamed Watercress Waterproof.

They were a talented family. The eldest sister, Muriel, some years older than Lettice and known to most of her friends as Robin, studied at the Royal College of Music under Herbert Howells. Her subject was conducting, at that time an even less usual occupation for a woman than now. A friend of Cecil Sharpe's, Robin was interested in the traditional songs still being sung by some women to ease their daily work. On one typical expedition my mother went with her to discover hitherto unrecorded songs on the islands of Col and Tiree.

Another sister, Peggy, was musical and a third, Betty, studied music and modern dancing. All four were inspired by the revival of folk dance and music of the twenties and gave performances in aid of charities, in period costume. The group, in which passing men were occasionally granted walk on parts, was called the Greenwood Players.

My mother’s grandmother, Alice, a woman who, so we were told, read Dante’s ‘Il Paradiso’ in Italian, had a London house and a country house called Milton Court near Dorking in Surrey. Family legend has it that she was the great granddaughter of the Prince Regent, who later became George IV.

The Prince had fallen in love with Mlle Papinot, one of the ladies in waiting at the Royal Court. The offspring of their love was called Charles. Mlle Papinot, as then often happened with royal mistresses, was married off to an obliging subject, with a suitably large cash reward. He was a merchant called Candy and Charles Candy, a debonaire young man, was later known by his friends as Beau Candy or Sugar Candy. He lived at Chipstead in Surrey.

Beau Candy’s granddaughter, my great grandmother Alice, rented a second London house, in Seymour Street in Mayfair, for my mother and her sisters to live in and have an experience of city life. Once a week Lettice went to draw fonts and well heads in the Victoria and Albert Museum. These, situated near the entrance, were felt to be safer subjects than those rather more naked artworks which lay further into the museum. Even on these apparently innocuous trips a chaperone was felt to be necessary and this role was undertaken by Alice Candy’s personal maid, Mrs Rose.

Upstairs at Milton Court near Dorking, her grandmother’s large Jacobean country home, my mother became intrigued by a cassone decorated by the Italian painter Uccello. She copied the designs on it again and again. Later, the place was inherited by Alice’s son Lachlan, my mother’s father. Lettice and the other daughters moved in and the cassone was sold to pay for the installation of electric light in the large residence, but not before my mother had sketched it from many angles.

The huge barns of the home farm appear in some of her works of this date, including The Miracle and The Jesse Tree, which still survive. My mother also remembers drawing her sister Betty's feet standing barefoot on a bridge over a tributary of the river Mole, which ran through the gardens, and this picture also still survives.

She was sent to boarding school at The Manor House, Brondesbury, in North London. It had been founded by Miss Soulsby, a high minded Victorian educationalist.

Lettice remembers a lino covered staircase, up and down which the students thundered on their way to classes many times a day. Its walls were hung with uplifting quotations and one that she remembered went,

‘E’en the light hairbell lifts her head

Elastic from her airy tread.’

These were World War I years, and at one point there was an unexpected holiday during the construction of a gun emplacement outside the school, to be used in the hurling of missiles at passing Zepellins.

My mother told me that she was not much good at sport, unlike her younger sister Betty. The exception was swimming, in which she gained a Life Saving Certificate. She also received tuition in fencing because it was believed to be helpful to young ladies in search of straight backs. Other lessons took place flat on her back on a long board with a hole in it for her head, for the same reason.

Art was what she was best at and the art master, who was important to my mother, was Percy Jowett. He had not been able to go to war because of a gammy leg. At art classes the chaperone was Mlle Couchoux, who also taught French.

After the war Lettice’s sister Robin (my Aunt Rob) brought back from Italy reproductions of Renaissance Italian painting and these my mother later felt had been a strong influence on her, especially the oval Renaissance faces which surfaced sometimes in her own work.

Lettice persuaded her father to let her go to art school. She attended the Byam Shaw and Vicat Cole school of art on Camden Hill in London. For three terms she and the other pupils copied plaster casts. They were allowed to paint brief sketches in oils. Of an evening she returned to austere but high minded lodgings at Harrington Gardens, South Kensington, run by the Girls Diocesan Association.

My mother never liked oil paint as a medium very much. However watercolour, of which she was already very fond, was not then held in as much esteem as now. So, as a result of the art school, her Japan black paint box was put away, to languish many years unused.

One of her teachers, when she moved on to the Chelsea Polytechnic, was Graham Sutherland. ‘At that time’, said my mother, ‘he was in his earliest stage of engraving nature in extreme detail so that each leaf or stalk could be recognised as of that particular tree or shrub and he had a delight in country scenes that followed in the tradition of Palmer and Calvert. He encouraged us to seek out their work.’

To this period belongs my mother’s etching ‘The Miracle’ which shows the Virgin Mary appearing to a homely figure who is amazed as she digs the cabbages, and in which the very fine lines of the Virgin Mary now seem to have miraculously disappeared from the copper plate altogether, so that the miracle is now complete.

The wonderful large wood engraving ‘The Isles of the Blessed’ also dates from this period and, so my mother explained, ‘Although it was one of my most successful engravings, I actually forgot about its existence, so it was never seen or exhibited or even printed until I rediscovered it in an old drawer in 1980’.

On leaving the Polytechnic in 1927 Lettice went on a skiing holiday with her sister Betty to Maloya, in Switzerland. It was there that she met Christopher Sandford, my father.

Of Anglo Irish descent, he was at that time extremely fond of motoring, which he combined with a passion for old English churches and mediæval stained glass. Lettice and Christopher had in common a love of printing, he of the printed word and she of the printed image.


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